Merkel choice for EU commissioner widely mocked
The German leader’s choice of EU commissioner has raised some eyebrows around the country and in Brussels.Berlin -- Widespread derision Monday greeted German Chancellor Angela Merkel's choice of a little-known local politician with a controversial past as the country's representative on the European Commission.
The reported reaction of Jose Manuel Barroso, the commission's president, summed up the disbelief in Berlin and Brussels at the appointment of Guenther Oettinger. Barroso rang up German colleagues to ask: "What is that all about?"
Apparently, the appointment also came as somewhat of a surprise to Oettinger himself, the 56-year-old head of the Baden-Wuerttemberg regional government in southwest Germany, but he nevertheless leapt at the unexpected chance.
"It was impossible to turn down such an offer ... I had to jump now or never," Oettinger said in an interview with the Hamburger Abendblatt daily.
Merkel herself said she was "very, very pleased" that Oettinger had decided to accept the post in Brussels, where she said he would be a "political heavyweight" to replace Germany's current "man in Brussels,” Guenter Verheugen.
EU sources told AFP that Germany was eyeing a plum Brussels post, such as competition, internal market or trade -- the jobs coveted by all major EU countries. Oettinger is a former lawyer with a good knowledge of economics.
Nevertheless, media commentators said Merkel -- from the same conservative CDU party as Oettinger but not a close ally -- was in fact ridding herself of a domestic political concern by spiriting him away to Brussels.
"Oettinger's appointment bears all the hallmarks of classic Merkel problem-disposal," commented the Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an editorial.
"Oettinger exiled to Brussels," ran the headline in the Tageszeitung.
Merkel and Oettinger crossed swords recently over budget negotiations and in 2007, when he became embroiled in a scandal after defending in a eulogy the Nazi past of his predecessor as Baden-Wuerttemberg's head, who had just died.
The Sueddeutsche also noted that the appointment of a relative unknown demonstrated that Berlin was attaching increasingly little weight to the European Commission, the executive arm that drafts EU legislation.
"No, the Federal Government is not disregarding the EU, but it values it less and less. Oettinger's appointment is merely another symptom of this."
An unnamed politician from the opposition centre-left Social Democrats gleefully mocked Merkel's decision.
"Germany is sending a player from the local leagues to the European Champions League," this politician told the Tagesspiegel daily.
The mockery is not limited to Berlin. Jean-Dominique Giuliani from the Schuman Foundation, a European think tank, told AFP: "The nomination has caused a bit of consternation in Brussels."
He said the appointment was more to do with internal politics in Merkel's CDU party than a disdain of Brussels, although he acknowledged: "One could also interpret it like that."
A senior German European parliamentarian, Martin Schulz, expressed doubts that Oettinger would survive his confirmation hearing at the European Parliament.
"His hearing will be a difficult thing for him," he said.
It may also be a difficult thing for the EU's phalanx of interpreters, as Oettinger has also been widely mocked for his thick Swabian accent, which even native German speakers find difficult to understand.
"We can do everything. Except speak standard German," runs the slogan of his Baden-Wuerttemberg region.
Fortunately, teased some commentators, as a European heavyweight, Germany is unlikely to be saddled with the "commissioner for multilingualism" -- seen as something of an insult for the country that lands the post.